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Leader, D. (1995). S. Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Freud's French Revolution, Free Association Books, 1993, second edition, 345 pp, £15.95. Free Associations, 5(2):245-248.

(1995). Free Associations, 5(2):245-248

S. Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Freud's French Revolution, Free Association Books, 1993, second edition, 345 pp, £15.95

Review by:
Darian Leader

Why is there a psychoanalytic culture in France but not in England? And what social conditions are necessary to encourage a psychoanalytic movement to grow into a psychoanalytic culture, understood as the way in which analytic metaphors and ways of thinking enter our everyday lives? If Viennese psychoanalysis was modified to suit the “American Dream” shortly after its arrival in the United States, is there a similar process at work in what Turkle calls the French Freud? The adoption of this catchword, which is in fact used by Virginia Woolf long before the establishment of the analytic culture Turkle is investigating, is itself an answer to this latter question. Psychoanalysis became part of the fabric of French culture because, she argues, it offered a formulation to help people think through the historically specific problems which were to crytallise in May 1968.

Turkle has two central theses. Firstly, that the expansion of psychoanalysis after May 1968 was due to the fact that it provided, in its Lacanian form, “a tool to think with,” a way of formulating the “explosion of speech and desire” that occurred at the time. It provided, she says, a response to the “psychologized politics” that was searched for, particularly in its stress on the decentered subject, the fact that the ego, as Freud put it, was “a clown” and that individuals articulated in a symbolic order to which they are subordinate. Turkle argues that such notions of what she calls the social and linguistic construction of the self were perfectly tailored for the young radicals of 1968. Lacanian theory, she claims, even if it was misunderstood, was the theory with the appropriate cultural credentials to serve as the new object to think with.

This is an interesting argument, and one which is generally ignored in the standard works on May 68.

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